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Nov 11, 2007 10:24 PM

Portland vs. Seattle

I was just in Portland, where I had a nice dim sum in a Chinatown full of stripper clubs.

I was amused to see in the local alternative paper that the NYT has been talking up Portland as the next big dining experience. The alternative paper had a wonderful time of mocking Seattle as tired and passe as a result.

I have only eaten in Portland a few times and not in the Pearl or anywhere trendy. I like the idea of the microbrewies etc., but wonder since Portland is so much smaller if it can really compete with the Seattle restaurant scene.

What say you all? Portland or Seattle? Which is best?

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  1. First off, there are only a couple strip clubs in Chinatown, not that I'd have intimate knowledge. Second, the best dim sum is in the burbs, so I can't imagine where you went; it couldn't have been any good at all, IMHO. There's not necessarily any correlation between population and food quality, same as any other aspect of culture such as the arts or bike-friendliness. The "alternative" paper you cite is Willamette Week, and they were trying to be cute and tongue-in-cheek.

    1. Portland has absolutely the worst dimsum on all of the west coast. Wong's King is the only restaurant (and to some extent Jin Wah in Beaverton) that can pass muster (and Wong's King's quality is rapidly deteriorating, unfortunately). The ones in Chinatown are absolutely terrible (and I say this even as members of my extended family actually own/used to own these restaurants).

      In terms of Chinese food, I can fill a whole page with names of Chinese people I personally know who drive to Seattle and/or Vancouver just for the Chinese food. Things have gotten much better nowadays in Portland, but it's still not very good. Vietnamese is a much better choice when dining for Asian food in Portland.

      1. I think these guys are overreacting to the quality of House of Louie or Fong Chong, both perfectly fine dim sum places in Chinatown. However, that having been said about Cantonese dim sum, no Szechuan places in Portland come close to the authenticity and quality of Seven Stars Pepper in Seattle or Szechuan Chef in Bellevue.

        Overall, however, I think Portland is a better restaurant town than Seattle. There are obviously many great places in both cities, but if I had one week to eat the city, I'd rather do it in Portland.

        4 Replies
        1. re: AlbertaHound

          House of Louie and Fong Chong used to be the sole monopoly of Chinese food in Portland about 10-15 years ago. The owners have stated that "people generally don't know any better, so we can get away with serving them crap because there's no other Chinese restaurant around" - and it definitely shows in their food. Because of bad management and rampant graft from their own employees, the original owners cashed out a few years ago. There were also increasing numbers of new Chinese/Asian restaurants sprouting up around Portland - while not top notch, they were easily surpassing the "quality" of these two former Chinatown flagships. The two restaurants are now reputed owned/controlled by the Vietnamese mafia in Portland. I'm guessing that the restaurant could have only IMPROVED under new management.

          Portland has many, many excellent restaurants. I especially personally enjoy Fenouil and various Indian places on the westside. However, the Chinese food is definitely sub-par.

          An anecdote about Wong's King: As I said, they were not too shabby of a place when they first opened, but only if you go for dinner and order their expensive seafood dishes. Have you noticed an awards plaque at the front of the restaurant? It says something like "Best Chinese Restaurant in the World". There was some contest in China a few years back (around Wong's King's opening) to find the best Chinese restaurant in America. Apparently, Wong's King won because no other contestants showed up. But that didn't stop them from using this award to hype up the restaurant before the opening. At first, the excellent food did meet the expectations. But I had dimsum and dinner there about 2-3 months ago and it's definitely on a downward spiral. I'm obviously not alone in this observation - since I was able to get a table in less than 15-20 minutes for a Saturday lunch (as opposed to more than a one-hour wait at the height of its fame).

          1. re: HungWeiLo

            Wong's has had many bad health dept. inspections, meaning sub-70 (gotta be pretty awful to get that low) scores and threatened with losing license unless they clean up their act in 30 days. On at least one report it said that no supervisor on site was able to demonstrate proper sanitary techniques.

            1. re: Leonardo

              I just looked at the health inspection reports website for King County (Seattle), and it seems like the cleanest places are fast food joints (McD's, Jack in the Box, etc.) and the dirties places are the high-end establishments.

              Personally, I think food sanitation is overrated. I just got back from France and Italy and everything tasted so bland and crappy when I got back. And the food is bland and crappy because of the stringent FDA regulations for the most part. But county food safety rules also contribute to this (rules about refrigeration, etc.). In France, I had an orgasmic meal where the chef's dog wandered around the kitchen and in the dining room. On my way to the bathroom, lots of food was left sitting out on the counter. If that happened here, they'd shut the place down!

              When the next big food bug hits the supply chain, our ill-immuned American bodies will be thoroughly screwed.

            2. re: HungWeiLo

              Despite the fact that I have enjoyed the fung gor, hum bao, potstickers, and shrimp ha gao at both Louie's and Fong Chong, I gotta say, wow! you seem to have great information and are a real asset to Chowhound. Keep it coming!

          2. Okay, I admit we ate at Wong Kee seafood restaurant. After reading your remarks on sanitation, will never go there again. Thanks for warning.

            We did not have an option since we only had time to walk around downtown and look for a place. We figured, well, at least Wong Kee has a Chinese name. Also we peeked in and saw that most of the food was steamed, not fried. And they had a seafood tank so maybe the food was fresh (at other places it looked like it had been sitting). Plus, we were the only non-Asians, so we figured that was a good sign. If there is better way to pick a Chinese restaurant, let me know. We are Italian and we love Chinese food.

            I understand the best Chinese places in Portland are on 82nd, no? This is in suburbs? Names please! Will go there next time.

            Wong's wasn't bad. Perhaps we came at good time, when food was just coming out. We were surprised as it was Sunday and there were no lines anywhere. In Seattle we would have had to wait. Everybody was nice and we enjoyed our visit to the city. Wedged in visit to Powells, of course.

            In any case, I was asking about the food scene iin general, not the Chinese food scene. Sorry for confusion. So anybody got an opinion on that? What are pros and cons? As in:

            Seattle pros
            Chinese (yes, it's better in Richmond, B.C., but too far to drive, okay?)
            Indian (on Eastside near Microsoft)
            Whatever you'd call Lark, Veil, Crow (and other places I can't afford to eat!)
            Yummy neighborhood breakfast places, such as 5 Spot
            Dahlia Lounge etc.

            Seattle cons
            Italian food (except newly opened Taorina, I've heard, where Bill Gates & Bill Clinton recently spotted. But we still don't have any true traittorias, just high-end or spaghetti western. Well, La Spiga maybe, but nothing I just love)
            French. Getting better, but again nothing that I just adore. And I am a chowhound!
            Jewish delis
            Pizza (did love Tutta Bella, but quality way down since expansion. And no more Pancetta pizza, my favorite).

            Again, I am no expert on Portland. That's why I'm asking. What'dya got? What do you wish you had?

            7 Replies
            1. re: Italian Woman

              Can you provide a link to more info about Taorina in Seattle, thanks!

              1. re: barleywino

                I thought I heard that the Gates and Clinton dined at Troiani downtown which has been opened for quite awhile...

                1. re: roma_girl

                  ok thx...unless Italian Woman is thinking of Tavolata (?)

                  1. re: barleywino

                    i don't know...In the Girl About Town column in the Times this weekend she mentioned that Gates and Clinton dined at Troiani, but she could have been wrong. Troiani seems like more of a Gates/Clinton place though! I've never been there and haven't heard any raves, but haven't heard any horrible things either. If anyone's been let me know...

                    1. re: roma_girl

                      Troiani is decent but not spectacular, better than say Palomino but not what i would consider to be a dining destination or top 10 in Seattle. Maybe they pulled out the stops for the bigwigs though. They do have good focaccia from Specialty Bakery, and i've had some good braised short rib and Frenched rib steak there (both of which unfortunately get rotated on and off the menu)

              2. re: Italian Woman

                want a good pancetta pizza in Seattle? Go to Fondi's, in a strip mall, northwest of the University Village. Good pizza, good salads, good sorbets, gelato, avoid the tiramisu. It's better than Tutta Bella, at least in my 3 visits.

                1. re: Italian Woman

                  For pizza, check out Flying Pie on 70something (76th, I think?) and Stark.

                2. I'm familiar with restaurants in both cities and Seattle kicks Portland's ass every which way from high end to cheap ethnic food not to mention you have waaaay more options here of each type of restaurant so you have some variety. I think this is why Portland restauranteurs are coming up here like the clark lewis guy (which was the best restaurant in Portland in its heyday) and the Coupage guy (forgot the name of his place in Portland) - more sophisticated audience here which has more demanding palate, definitely more money to be made here, etc. Just saying.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: landguy

                    Seattle can have the clarklewis guy (Michael Hebberoy) AND the Coupage guy (Tom Hurley) with Portland's compliments!

                    1. re: Kim D

                      The clark lewis's original chef is up here too. I guess I was writing about him more than that Hebberoy guy. His food is/was brilliant.

                      1. re: landguy

                        Hey, at least in Portland we can know the names of our chefs--in this case, you're talking about Morgan Brownlow.

                        1. re: Nettie

                          I admit I'm lazy. Morgan isn't cooking here yet but I sure hope he does soon! I guess he does live here now though....

                    2. re: landguy

                      Let's hear about all the wonderful and superior options Seattle has in, say, the areas of Northern Thai street food (vs. Pok Pok), world class pizza (vs. Apizza Scholls, Ken's Artisan) or Jewish deli (vs. the newly opened Kenny & Zuke's).

                      And how about some evidence to support your "familiarity" with restaurants in both cities. The citation of the "clarklewis guy" and "the Coupage guy," both excess baggage to us Portlanders, suggests abundant cluelessness, not familiarity, concerning the Portland restaurant scene. "Just saying," indeed.

                      1. re: swami rabbitima

                        A city with a great restaurant scene has depth and bredth. Citing a great northern Thai and Jewish deli doesn't make the case at all.

                        1. re: swami rabbitima

                          Ok whatever dude. You guys take yourselves too seriously. I have no problem admitting Seattle can't hold a candle to say a San Fran or New York but I doubt you guys in Portland could do the same. You suffer from little town syndrome. Just saying. Hey, at least you get good writeups in Food and Wine and what not....

                          P.S We can buy Carnegie Deli's NYC Kosher Pastrami and Corned Beef from DeLaurenti's at Pike's Place Market, Seattle USA! Booyah! As for other restaurants well we do probably 4x the options here when it comes to every type of cuisine so you can kind of assume we have you beat. Just saying.

                          1. re: landguy

                            uh. . .yeah, sure, "dude." that imported fridge packed stuff no doubt beats the pants off fresh, made-daily-in-house product you won't ever try here in little tiny puddletown cuz it's beneath you.

                            the more lucid Seattleites here understand each city has it's strengths, but if you want to stick with the Seattle kicks ass across the board thing, fine. You are destined to miss out on some wonderful dining at many of the places identified in this thread. And the NYC-Portland thing: just a big conspiracy to hose Seattle out of its due.

                            at least we can agree that Seattle can't hold a candle to NYC or SF--or any other world class cities. You will always be compared to Portland, and that's the way it goes.

                            keep working on the 20something-speak, "dude"--it's darn entertaining--and don't go out without your hoodie! It's chilly.

                            1. re: swami rabbitima

                              not a Portland expert but i had a great dinner at Carlyle once...chef put together an impromptu tasting...could use more places like that up here in Seattle

                            2. re: landguy

                              It's amazing that the only name dropping you do to support that you think Seattle has better restaurants than Portland is that you guys can get product not even made there!!! come on "dude"